HIV Testing During Pregnancy

Early diagnosis of HIV and subsequent treatment can prevent transmission of the virus to your baby

Did you know that doctors advocate HIV testing during pregnancy? If you are HIV positive, you can transmit HIV to your baby during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. If you know your status, a number of precautions can be taken to prevent transmission.

There are two HIV tests you could try. The first test is done in the first trimester at the same time as other routine tests offered at your first antenatal check-up. A second HIV test is offered in the third trimester.

Why You Should Consider the Test

Everybody should know their HIV status – you could be HIV positive and not know it. Early detection and treatment will ensure that you remain healthy both during and after your pregnancy and prevent HIV transmission to your baby.

Your Rights Protected

You cannot be forced to take any antenatal tests. It is your right to consent to or refuse an HIV test. You also have the right to counselling before you decide to take the test. Through counselling you will receive information on HIV, and you can ask any questions regarding the test and results. You will be asked to sign a consent form and the results will be confidential.

What Happens During the Test?

There are two types of tests for HIV. Both tests require a blood sample. The first is a finger-prick test, where a small amount of blood is taken from your finger and placed in a tester. The results are ready within 20 minutes. Blood may also be taken from a vein in your arm and sent for laboratory testing. These results take longer, and you may need to return to your doctor’s consulting rooms to receive them.

An HIV test is an antibody test. When a person is infected with HIV, the body responds by producing antibodies to fight the infection. An HIV test looks for antibodies in the blood. If they are found, your test result is said to be positive for HIV.

What Happens if the Result is Positive?

If your result is positive, your doctor will order a second, confirmatory test. If this test is positive, you will be diagnosed with HIV. If the confirmatory test is negative, a full blood test will be ordered. An HIV diagnosis is only made after two positive tests on two different blood samples. If you are HIV positive, your doctor will provide information on your treatment and care for your baby. You will also be advised to disclose your status to your partner and urge him or her to get tested.

Preventing Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV

With early diagnosis of HIV, treatment and precautions during your baby’s birth, there is a less than 1% chance that your baby will be born with HIV. Without treatment the risk is between 15% and 45%.

  • Your doctor will start you on antiretroviral therapy (ART), a combination of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, as soon as possible after your diagnosis. ARVs are not a cure for HIV but supress the virus to prevent its progression in your body and keep you healthy. They also reduce the risk of transmission of the virus to your baby
  • You must take your medication every day as prescribed by your doctor
  • Your doctor will advise you on the safest delivery methods for your baby. Your CD4 count will be checked and your doctor may advocate a caesarean section
  • Your baby should be tested for HIV at birth, with a second test between four to six weeks of age. Your baby may be given liquid ARVs to take from birth for four to six weeks as advised by your doctor
  • You will be advised on the safest feeding methods for your baby


Photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash

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